By Blood We Live Page 75

And even then he didn’t budge. I could feel him behind me, a sort of smug energy coming off him. I thought again of all the stupid, careless mistakes I’d made since leaving Los Angeles. All I wanted right then was enough time to do what I had to do. It wouldn’t need twenty thousand years. Forty-eight hours should be enough.

“Sorry, ma’am,” the receptionist said. “I’m getting an incorrect PIN message. Would you like to try again?”

I would have turned on him then—told him to back the fuck off, punched him, screamed at him, whatever, I don’t know—but his cellphone rang, and he walked away to answer it, talking in Italian.

There was no sign of him when I looked after checking-in (I was so spooked it took me another two attempts to key the PIN in correctly; I knew the number, it was just I couldn’t control my goddamned hands) and in any case there was no time. I got to my room on the nineteenth floor, hung the DO NOT DISTURB sign, locked the door, killed the lights and shut myself in the bathroom.



I FLOPPED ONTO the bed, feeling, frankly, terrible.

“What is it that makes you think she’s in danger?” Mia said to me.

We’d just checked-in to the Novotel at Suvarnabhumi. Hardly a first choice, but even with Damien’s near-infallible jiggery-pokery we were too close to sunrise for anything further afield. It had been a frustrating few days. Commercial airlines would have been faster, but the risks of losing the night—without the jet’s blackout-room fallback—were too high. I’d been tormented by the image of Justine going up in daylight flames in her airplane seat, or the back of a cab, or in the lobby of a hotel just like this one. Three days ago Hannah had called with the necessaries on Duane Schrutt. Duane Schrutt. The near-misses I’d had—Dale, Wayne—were a minor irritant, a bit of grit in my mind’s eye. A minor irritant, I repeat. The major irritant was too major to be described as an irritant. It was more of a disaster. A recurring disaster. I’d suffered several more inexplicable episodes of … of what? Unconsciousness. Nausea with nothing to throw up. Periods of being—I was tiring of the phrase—as weak as a kitten, when the lifting of my hand or the turning of my head called for an energy that felt—in the tissues, the vessels, the bones—like a logical impossibility. I had no appetite whatsoever. The jet’s blood-stock was at my companions’ disposal. Caleb didn’t like it, that I didn’t drink. He didn’t like it in the way human children don’t like the urine-and-Vicks smell of the human old. I told him it was no biggie. I told him that when you got to my age you just didn’t need … You just weren’t that thirsty. I was becoming, I could tell, an alarming disappointment to the lad. I had, however, opened a numbered account in Mia’s name in Geneva and transferred five million dollars into it to start her off. (Her only surviving account after Fifty Families ostracisation was, pitifully, a chequing account at Chase Manhattan. You might as well put cash in a coffee jar.) Five million probably sounds like a lot. It’s not. Even in human terms, these days, it’s not. This is, after all, the age which spawned the economist’s joke: A trillion here, a trillion there … Pretty soon you’re talking real money. I watch people on game shows losing all dignity and restraint when they win One Hundred Thousand Dollars! How long do they think that’s going to last? They think their lives have changed. They haven’t. Not unless they put the lot on a million-to-one shot at the track and it comes in. Then they might find out where their freedom takes them. Then they might find out who and what they really are … But, in any case, an indefinite lifespan makes five million nothing, makes five million change.

“Did you hear me?” Mia said.

“What? Oh, yes. Sorry. I don’t know. She’s new. She’s … There’s an emotional investment in the victim. I promised I wouldn’t leave her. I just hope we’re not too late. She’s a bit unpredictable.”

Mia stood with her hands in the leather jacket pockets, looking down at me on the bed. She really was extraordinarily beautiful. The cold blonde hair and cold blue eyes and cold white skin and warm red mouth. A shocking, perfect contrast. I thought: Beauty just keeps coming into the world and passing away, coming in and passing away. You can’t blame beauty. Beauty doesn’t know what else to do.

“What’s the matter?” she said. “What is it? Are you in pain?”

You’re a bit fragile, Fluff, Justine had said. It felt like a long time ago. Sometimes, when I was forced to consider my sense of time, it was like looking out of a carriage window to see that the wheels were running right on the edge of a sheer and infinite drop. I forced myself to sit up, dried my eyes. Laughed a little.

“I’m fine,” I said. “Forgive me. I’m a bit … I’m sorry. Kindness hurts.”


“You and Caleb. You’ve been very kind to me.”

I felt the reflex in her, to reply that I was paying them. I felt the huge, tense, ever-ready reflex, which was to strip away sentiment at all costs. I felt her suppress it—just—with the words on the tip of her tongue. Instead she said, quietly, “I think you should give me your spare room key. In case you oversleep.”

In case you have another episode. I was thinking of all the old people I’d ever heard say: I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.

“You’re absolutely right,” I said. I gave her the spare. Nowadays a hotel key was a piece of magnetised plastic. It’s a mark of the state I was in that that fact made the idiotic tears well again. The thought of the human world moving forward with its shifty bravery, inspired madness, bloody inversions, deafening ignorance. It’s hard not to love your species’ dedication to craftily making things physically easier, even though you know by now it just leaves more room for getting mentally fucked-up. Corkscrews. Ironing boards. Aeroplanes. Cellphones. You kill me with these things. Walking on the moon! A group of humans sitting around discussing walking on the moon. Knowing the mathematical razor wire it’s going to roll them in, knowing the scale, the ludicrous giantness of the undertaking, knowing all this but still assuming it’ll get done because the giant undertaking breaks down into a million small things like the manufacture of single tiny components and the necessity of one minus one equalling zero. The labour you lot are willing to put in from there breaks my heart. And then as soon as you’ve done it you’re on to the next thing. Mars. The Genome. CERN. It’s a sort of nymphomania or satyriasis of consciousness, a hopelessly promiscuous carrying on.

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